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Otley Road segregated cycle route

Traffic on Otley Road, Harrogate
Otley Road, Harrogate

North Yorkshire County Council is planning to build a segregated cycle route alongside Otley Road, Harrogate. (Please do it properly or not at all).

Otley Road segregated cycle route: latest developments

Otley Road segregated cycle route: NYCC Q&A document

20th March 2019

A Q&A document has appeared on NYCC's West Harrogate page, with the questions people raised at the January 2019 consultation, and the answers to them. It's good that they produced this document.

There are a lot of questions, and I won't go through them all. Some notable points include:

  • they won't change the road markings near the Prince of Wales roundabout, to give more space to traffic going uphill, because of 'geometry levels of traffic', whatever that is, and 'prohibitive cost of linking in a cycle route'.
  • they are going to look at the crossing from Beech Grove onto Otley Road during the detailed design stage.
  • they don't want to give pedestrians crossing West End Avenue, as they walk up or down Otley Road, priority over traffic.
  • on the other hand, this is one of the questions: 'Can you install pedestrian crossings at Wordsworth Crescent, Queens Road and Victoria Road set one car length back?'; and this is the answer: 'Uncontrolled pedestrian crossings are being provided at all side roads'. That seems to contradict the previous answer about West End Avenue, depending on what 'uncontrolled pedestrian crossings' turn out to be. Perhaps they are a useless bit of paint giving no priority*.
  • the traffic signals team can investigate the light-controlled crossing near West End Avenue, and whether the lights can change more quickly to allow people to cross. (Don't hold your breath for any action from them). Apparently crossings of Otley Road at Beech Grove and Victoria Road are being considered, which would mean lots of options.
  • they don't want to segregate their proposed shared use path outside So Bar & Eats; they say that experienced cyclists should stay on the road here, and nervous ones on the footpath. I would say that is the worst response anywhere in the document. The reason why cycle infrastructure in the UK has been such a failure in my whole lifetime, is that we build inconvenient rubbish that people only use if they are terrified, and ignore otherwise - or they don't cycle at all. What we need is cycle routes that are of good enough quality that everyone already on a bike uses them, and which attract new people on two wheels. The pavement outside the pub is busy, and not wide enough to be practical for cycling. That part of the proposed design is awful and should be changed.
  • they are going to put 'end of route/cyclists dismount' signs where their cycleway stops. That is an admission of failure on a signpost. It helps absolutely nobody. Those of us who ride bikes are pretty cool, but we can't teleport ourselves to another location. Those signs are supposed to be used only as a last resort, as government guidance makes clear, but they are sprinkled liberally around Harrogate, as though NYCC had a surplus and needed to clear some warehouse space. It may be that council officials imagine people mounting and dismounting their bikes all the time; in the real world, people want continuity - to get going and keep going. Absolutely the last thing they want to do is keep hopping on and off their bikes. In genuinely cycling-friendly countries like the Netherlands, they just don't have these daft signs.

*A look on the web turned up this link, which confirms that 'uncontrolled crossings' are 95% useless. They have dropped kerbs, but other than that, they are not really crossings at all. As Clackmannanshire Council's website makes clear, 'Drivers are not required to stop at an uncontrolled crossing point. The pedestrian must wait at the kerb until there is a suitable gap in traffic to allow them to cross, and should only then cross with due care and attention...Pedestrians must not cross until there is a safe gap in the traffic and there is plenty of time to cross. Even if traffic is a long way off, it may be approaching very quickly.'

So pedestrians are getting crossings where they have no priority and have to dodge the traffic, and if they get run over, it will be their own fault. That's unbelievably poor. Remember, these are residential streets, which should be for people not cars. Pedestrians should be considered first, according to the hierarchy of road users, but they are not - cars are given priority. It is a big step forward that the cycle route is to be given priority over side roads, but a big step backwards that pedestrians are not.

It's no good councils just saying that they are in favour of walking - they have to back up their words with actions, otherwise those words are hollow. Instead of planning for growth in traffic by 2035, NYCC should be planning for a reduction in traffic, and making walking and cycling by far the most convenient ways of travelling on Otley Road.

Otley Road segregated cycle route: timetable slips once again

15th March 2019

NYCC's West Harrogate Improvement Package page has been updated. It now gives 'indicative start dates' for the schemes that make up the package. They are:

  • Harlow Moor Road junction: August 2019
  • Cycle route: late September 2019
  • Signal improvement scheme: late September 2019

Otley Road cycle route consultation

Cycling on Otley Road, Harrogate

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) held a community engagement event to discuss the proposed segregated cycle route on Otley Road. It took place at Harrogate Grammar School Sixth Form College, on Monday 21st January 2019. NYCC officers and designers were present, to discuss the schemes. (Written comments could be submitted to area6.boroughbridge@northyorks.gov.uk).

NYCC was successful with a bid for funding from central government. The sum is £4.6 million, and it is to pay for improvements to junctions on Otley Road, 'smart' traffic lights, and better pedestrian crossings, as well as the cycle route. It is called the West Harrogate improvement package.

There's a draft plan of the cycle route. This was Harrogate & District Cycle Action's submission, with the reasons why a quality cycle route is needed, and my comments on the detailed design.

I suggest the key points are:

  • The cycle route is much needed. It is a short distance from the residential areas here into town - easily done in a very few minutes by bike. At the moment, people are expected to put their lives in danger by mixing with heavy traffic, which can't be right.
  • The cycle route must be safe, with physical protection from the traffic.
  • The cycle route must be convenient. That means it should be continuous - there is no place for 'end of route' signs in the middle of routes because the council can't work out how to do a particular section. It also means it must have priority over side roads and driveways: if you make it give way to motorised traffic on every occasion, it will be useless. People who already ride bikes won't use it, plus it won't attract any new cyclists, and therefore won't do anything to increase active travel and reduce congestion.
  • It should be part of a complete network. The main connecting route into and out of the town centre is Beech Grove, which is a bad cycle route. A cycle-friendly route, either on Beech Grove or across the Stray, needs to be created - not in 5 or 10 years' time, but urgently.
  • So-called smart traffic lights should not be an excuse for giving even more priority to vehicles. People on foot should be the first priority. Otley Road is a barrier to walking, because it has few crossings, and people are made to wait for an unconscionable length of time before they are allowed to cross. Lights should turn green for pedestrians as soon as they press the button, unless someone has just crossed. Also, people should be given a reasonable amount of time to cross, not made to scurry over the road as though they are an afterthought and a nuisance.
  • A pedestrian and cycle crossing is needed where the corner of West Park Stray meets Otley Road, by Beech Grove.

On 15th February 2019, after the deadline for written comments to the consultation, the Harrogate Advertiser published a 'state of play' article. Much of it was journalistic hyperbole ('Harrogate's version of Brexit' - not helpful), and it made the most of any conflicts, doubts and complexities.

The article did have quotes from NYCC Councillor Mackenzie, with some useful information. The responses to the consultation are to be analysed. The exact timetable isn't clear, but the first section is not likely to be built by the time of the Tour de Yorkshire (May 2019); the first section will be finished by the UCI 2019 World Championships (September 2019). (This has now been delayed again - see 15th March 2019 post above).

In August 2017, Hedgehog Cycling reported that the county council had made a bid for DfT funding for, amongst other things, junction improvements and the segregated cycle track.

On 30th November 2017, the Harrogate Advertiser reported that the bid was successful. Some work was due to begin in March 2018, and the creation of the cycle track was scheduled for July 2018. No work appears to have started at the time of writing (mid-June 2018).

In January 2018, the Stray Defence Association raised objections to the cycle track, with the Chairperson of the Association telling the Harrogate Advertiser that the plan would involve the loss of grass verges next to Otley Road, and possibly some trees, that technically form part of the Stray.

Councillor Don Mackenzie of NYCC Highways is confident that the Stray Defence Association objections can be overcome. In the past, land has been set aside elsewhere to replace grass lost in making paths.

All Harrogate residents value the Stray. I've never seen anyone playing frisbee or having a picnic on the Otley Road verges, though. It would be awful. Almost any replacement land would have more amenity value - particularly Stray Rein and Coach Road, currently used for parking cars.

A segregated cycle route on Otley Road is essential.

Otley Road segregated cycle route: why it is essential

Cyclist on Otley Road

People do use Otley Road on bikes, but my observation is that about half of them find sharing the main carriageway with traffic too hostile an environment, and choose to ride along the pavement instead. If all drivers followed rule 163 of the Highway Code when overtaking, there would be no problem, but they do not. In fact, a Highway Code overtake is a rarity on Otley Road, with most drivers choosing to pass leaving much less space.

Fear of traffic isn't the only problem - there are collisions and injuries too. On 14th June 2018, a cyclist was injured in a collision with a Vauxhall Astra near the Otley Road/Cardale Park junction, and taken to hospital.

Harrogate suffers from congestion problems. People should have a genuine choice about whether to drive and sit in (and worsen) the traffic jams, or whether to use a bike for short distances around town. At the moment too many people don't feel safe cycling, so it is not an option for them.

The air quality on Otley Road is unacceptably poor. I know this from walking on the pavement, and breathing the traffic exhaust fumes. I don't know exactly how bad the air pollution is, because Harrogate BC do not measure it - they say that most of the houses are set back a bit, so they don't have to carry out measurements.

We know that diesel exhaust fumes in particular are very damaging to our health. The fumes are damaging the health of people in the area, including the pupils breathing them in on the way to the schools on and near Otley Road. A safe bike route will at least give people a choice about whether to add to the pollution or not. Consideration should also be given as to whether to follow the example of London and exclude the most polluting vehicles from the centre of town.

Otley Road segregated cycle route: it must be safe and convenient

Copenhagen bike lane
An example of what is possible, from Copenhagen

Like the rest of the UK, Harrogate has more than enough poor quality, non user-friendly 'cycle infrastructure', which is often ignored by people who already cycle, and does not attract new cyclists. We're even building new sub-standard cycle routes now.

I'm not going to go into all the factors that make or break cycle infrastructure, but while the Otley Road route is still being planned, and before mistakes are set in concrete, I would like to say, 'give it priority over side roads'.

If you build a route that gives way to every side road, you may as well not bother. It's just the same as riding on the pavement. The people who currently ride on the pavement will use the cycle track, and everyone else will ignore it.

When cycling, you want a bit of continuity - to be able to get going and keep going, not stop at every side road. If you're going straight on, you should have priority over side roads; if you're turning, give way. It's not asking for special treatment - just for the same priority rules as for vehicles. (While we're about it, we could give the pavement priority over turning vehicles at side roads, as in the photo above).

The alternative is that vehicles on Otley Road (and any bikes that use the road) have priority over side roads, but the bike route doesn't. The message would be: if you're in a car, you're important, if you're on a bike, you're not. It won't encourage people to use the bike route, and won't attract more cyclists.

To be clear, if the bike route is to give way to all the side roads, it will be a waste of time, and personally I won't support it or use it. Let's hope that's not the case.

Otley Road segregated cycle route: another example of what is possible

Cardiff cycle infrastructure
Planned Cardiff cycle infrastructure, © Cardiff Council

Cardiff is planning some quality segregated cycle routes, with work on the first to start on 18th March 2019.

We have got too used to nearly all the space and priority on roads being given to private cars, and everyone else being crammed into what remains, and made to scuttle across roads, dodging vehicles. Enough is enough.

The image shows what we must start building in 2019: streets with proper provision and proper priority for people on foot and riding bikes.

Of course we can't make Otley Road as wide as the street in the image, but we can put in crossings of side roads with priority, and we should.

And there are streets in Harrogate that are wide, such as Leeds Road/West Park. The problem is, cars are given two lanes, plus parking either side. It's time to implement a more reasonable and equitable use of space there, too.

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Cycling UK poll

5th June 2018

Closed road cycling in York

A poll of 2,000 British adults for Cycling UK reveals the top reasons why more people don't cycle. They include sharing the road with large vehicles and close passes. What would encourage more people to ride bikes? Find out about the Cycling UK poll.

Roe deer, Bilton Lane Traffic jam, HarrogateSparrow, Bilton Lane